Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tornado Day part II

5-16-09 interrupted brain
Now, where was I?
Out of the basement, safe, and standing in the middle of the street.... wondering where the neighbors garage had blown away to while leaving the car untouched... AND where is my Dad?

Long story short, at least I will attempt to shorten.... My mom and I, maybe Jan too, I don't fully remember, started walking east down our street to assess the damage. It became clear within a block that we couldn't proceed safely due to down power lines. I WAS scared at that point and wanted to get back home since it was starting to rain again with more rumbling thunder.

At some point, with in a hour, Grandpa walked up to our house in a daze after making his way on foot across town. He was our first report of how bad the damage was between his house and ours. Luckily his house had also been spared. However, most of everything else between had been flatten. Grandpa then took off to walk the six blocks SE of our house to see if the nursing home had been damaged. Luckily it was OK, as well as the hospital which was just south of our house.

My Dad had been driving the school bus full of the boy's and girl's High School Golf team back from an out of town meet. They drove into Elm first which had also been hit by the storm and there he learned that Charles City had been hit by a tornado.

Dad did show up at some point that evening to check up on us, how I don't know. He then headed down town to help set up the Red Cross Shelter in the Lutheran Church, the ONE church that was left undamaged. Dad was on the City Council at that time and member of the disaster team.

I don't remember if we ever ate any dinner that evening. My strongest memories of that night was hearing all the sirens from the ambulances coming and going. We lived just off of Main Street on the side of town just down the road from the Hospital. The sirens scared me more then ever, so I was allowed to sleep with my sister in her room, probably for several nights.

Thirteen people were killed in Charles City, and the tornado cut a path of destruction straight through town from the south end all the way to the north and beyond. Most of the churches were destroyed, along with part of downtown. Luckily the Junior and Senior High Schools were unharmed.

I believe Mom and Dad kept us away from the damaged areas for several weeks, but even then it was clear to me the extent of damage was unbelievable. At that time there was no tornado rating system, but in retrospect they categorized this storm as a "F5" tornado.

I think I missed my Methodist Church the most. It was too far gone to save. It was a beautiful old limestone building.

After all was said and done, the tornado changed our town in many ways. Sure most of the buildings were eventually rebuilt, and we even got a downtown shopping mall out of the "urban renewal", but in many ways things were never the same.

I can't image being an adult at that time and dealing with this all. That year of 1968 had already brought the tragic killings of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I have to hand it to my parents, they kept us feeling safe, and protected us from the all the worries of the time. We were allowed to just be kids and we did enjoy our summer which came 2.5 weeks early.

That summer of 1968 was memorable too. I got to go to a horse camp by Guthrie Center with 6 other neighborhood girls and I took my first plane trip with my family to visit my other Grandpa and Grandma in Oregon in August.

So now if any of you see me getting paranoid about an approaching storm, you'll understand the reason. Tornado Day lives on in my brain and I'm sure in many other brains was well.


  1. What a relief it must have been to know your family was safe and your homes had escaped the destruction. But sad at the same time knowing that so many weren't as lucky as you.

  2. I have to report on ironic timing. Yesterday afternoon, May 15th 2009, a big storm rolled through KC. The day had been warm and humid like 41 years ago and I was acutely aware of this after my blog walk down memory lane. I was glued to the TV weather reports and had moved my valuables (purse and laptop) down to the basement, which have become my usual “mo” when storms are in my vicinity. I’m happy to report my uneasiness soon passed as the KC storm just produced heavy rains.

  3. I'm about your age and remember being terrified of tornadoes as a kid. This is quite a story, to be living in that town at that time, to remember so many details surrounding the experience.

    I had a dream last year about a tornado. I was in a one-room school as an adult, crouching on the floor because there was a tornado outside. I had the distinct realization that I was going to die.

    I was afraid of house fires as a kid too. So much fear in childhood.

  4. Ruth,
    Over the years I've had a LOT of tornado dreams. I find it interesting that in each dream, except one, I was always. The one dream just a few years ago, I ended up in some rubble- then I woke up.

    My other fear as a child was falling down steps.

  5. Judy you should be a historian. Your memory and catalog of pictures are FANTASTIC.